It pains me to report on unsubstantiated news from the reissue world, but this one needs to be addressed in some way: TMZ reported last weekend that Sony was prepping a compilation of Michael Jackson’s music videos (allegedly titled Vision) for the Christmas rush. Yeah, it’s TMZ, not a known source of catalogue info, but they did prove their mettle in covering Michael Jackson’s death (for better or for worse), so let’s at least serve the news to you with more than a dash of salt.
But let’s say, for kicks, that this was true. (With a video game and promised vault compilation due next month, it’s possible.) The Second Disc, in imagining a theoretical compilation, would be remiss in skipping out on the possibility of an overview for you, the reader, to know what’s out there now, in terms of video compilations and what has yet to see a DVD release. There’s a lot in terms of what hasn’t been released, countering TMZ’s snarky reporting that the promise of one unreleased video on Vision would be a terrible excuse to travel back into the well.
With that in mind, we present the first DVD/video-themed Back Tracks (feel free to provide a better name for such a feature in the comments), taking you down the long and winding videography of The King of Pop.
Note: for the purposes of such a hypothetical compilation, we have skipped any variety-oriented musical television performances, including The Jacksons variety show from 1976-1977 and appearances on Soul Train, American Bandstand and others. We’ve also generally shied away from material that would merit its own release, like Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Moonwalker and The Michael Jackson 30th Anniversary Concert.
Part 1: 1976-1981
The first Michael Jackson video, naturally, starred his brothers as well. (He could rarely get a moment away from them for much of the ’70s.) “Blame It on the Boogie” had a primitive but pivotal clip that showed Michael, Jackie, Tito, Marlon and Randy dancing while distracting video effects trail behind them. Unreleased on any format, it’d be a fun treat on a video comp.
Each major single on Jackson’s first solo effort for Epic, Off the Wall (1979), got their own wildly influential videos. Although they are spare and simple, the artistic vision of the young man singing and dancing through each of them is palpable, a good two years before anyone had any outlet for music videos. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock with You” are pure bliss, consisting of a tuxedo clad Michael in the former and a sparkly-jumpsuit wearing Michael in the latter grooving and miming to the infectious beats. “She’s Out of My Life,” by contrast, is spare, with a contemplative Jackson in plaid shirt and sweater barely keeping it together through this powerful ballad of love lost. “Don’t Stop” and “Rock with You” have been released on video before, on the Video Greatest Hits HIStory set in 1995 (released to DVD in 2001) and the Number Ones DVD released alongside the single-disc compilation of the same name in 2003.
Of course, after Off the Wall it was back to the fold for another Jacksons LP. The featured video for Triumph (1980) was “Can You Feel It,” directed by Bruce Gowers (who directed “Rock with You” and “She’s Out of My Life”). This was arguably the highest-budget video involving MJ thus far; it was shot on film rather than video (only “Boogie” had been shot that way thus far) and featured more complicated visual effects enhancing a crazy narrative involving The Jacksons bringing cartoonish light to the children, or something. (There are also a lot of sound effects from Star Wars.) This is another as-yet unreleased on DVD.
It was a heck of a start for Michael’s video career, but it was about to get much, much bigger.
Part 2: 1982-1985
Thriller. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Seven Top 10 singles, seven Grammys (with another won in the same year, a record), more copies sold than any other long-playing album. As if that wasn’t crazy enough, there were videos to boot.
Only three of the singles from Thriller had videos, but they were good ones. “Billie Jean” was an MTV milestone, one of the first heavily-rotated videos by a black artist. The jheri curl, the bow tie, the light-up sidewalk stones – who can forget it? Certainly not Sony – it’s been released on both Video Greatest Hits HIStory and Number Ones. The same goes for “Beat It,” the ’80s answer to West Side Story, which turned a red leather jacket into an icon of fashion and made a star out of director Bob Giraldi on the music video circuit. That one was not only released on VGHH and Number Ones, but also HIStory on Film – Volume II, a 1997 follow-up DVD. And then there was “Thriller.” The 13-minute-plus short film inspired by An American Werewolf in London (and directed by the same fellow, John Landis) is a staple of any MJ video collection, released on all the aforementioned DVDs as well as the bonus DVD that came with Legacy’s Thriller 25 set in 2008.
But that’s certainly not all. Michael’s prior compilations (notably HIStory on Film – Volume II and Thriller 25 have licensed the classic performance of “Billie Jean” from the NBC television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever. It’s here, of course, that Jackson first reunited with all of his brothers (including Jermaine, who’d remained at Motown when The Jacksons left for Epic) and then, in “Billie Jean,” performed the moonwalk for millions of families, turning Thriller into a bona fide cultural touchstone. It would be a delight to release that Jacksons medley for a DVD release, but it’s likely going to stay in the vault for the same reason the entire Motown 25 special still sits locked away: a frightening amount of legal clearances to untangle.
A complete DVD compilation would also be wise to include the as-yet unreleased “Say, Say, Say,” the Giraldi-directed clip for the other single that Jackson and Paul McCartney performed (this one, of course, is from Macca’s Pipes of Peace album, while “The Girl is Mine” came from Thriller, sans video). Less likely would be the “We Are the World” clip by USA for Africa, which Jackson participated in and co-wrote; the entire World documentary was released on DVD some time ago for the venture’s 20th anniversary. And hardcore fans can’t forget the hysterically dated, commercially-unreleased clip from The Jacksons’ “Torture,” off the Victory album in 1984. Michael sings on the underrated track, but his video appearance is a bit wooden – or waxen, as the case may be; Jackson would not appear in the clip and was briefly represented by Madame Tussaud’s wax replica of the singer.
Part 2: 1986-1990
Jackson’s next solo album, Bad (1987), was constructed to be as commercially monstrous as its predecessor, and there were some heavy-duty videos to boot. The 18-minute “Bad” clip, directed by Martin Scorsese, and the nine-minute “The Way You Make Me Feel” solidified the new template of Jackson’s video as short film concept. (Both were released in full on Video Greatest Hits HIStory and in edited form on Number Ones.) They were followed by the somber “Man in the Mirror,” in which Jackson did not appear. (This was only first released on Number Ones.) “Dirty Diana” and “Smooth Criminal” were harder-edged songs with stylized videos (a stylized concert performance in the first, a 1930s gangster rave-up in the latter), and both of them have some interesting alternate versions. Michael Jackson’s YouTube page features a professionally-shot live rendition of “Diana” that has never been commercially released. Meanwhile, the warp-speed video for “Smooth Criminal” is sometimes interchanged with an extended version taken from the Moonwalker film released in 1988. (An edit of this sequence with some remixed audio portions is included on HIStory on Film – Volume II; the original versions of “Diana” and “Criminal” are found on Number Ones.)
Other videos include either of the live clips shot for “Another Part of Me”: a video-sourced clip seen on MTV in 1988, and a film-stock alternate seen on MJ’s YouTube channel. There’s also the fantastic clip for “Leave Me Alone,” featured in Moonwalker (really, that whole film needs a DVD release itself) and the wacky, star-studded clip for “Liberian Girl” only released on HIStory on Film – Volume II.
If you wanted to get fancy, bonuses could include Jackson’s performance at the 1988 Grammys (Or, for kicks, the multi-part Pepsi commercials used to promote Bad‘s release in 1987.)
Part 3: 1991-1994
Bigger! Better! More! Two out of three wasn’t bad on Dangerous, which saw Jackson hook up with New Jack swing producer Teddy Riley and release a lot of edgy, brittle R&B on one overstuffed 75-minute album. Singles were voluminous, and although not all of them were as immortal as the songs that came before, they had a heaping helping of videos, which actually received their own compilation on DVD (Dangerous: The Short Films).
“Black or White” was the first, simulcast on MTV, VH-1, BET and FOX. Outcry over the bizarre climax of the video, in which Jackson grabbed his crotch, yelled, broke windows and turned into a panther (possibly in that order), led to several edits of the video; a short edit is featured on Number Ones but the full version is available on Video Greatest Hits HIStory, with a twist. (Racist graffiti was digitally added onto the various structures Jackson destroys, as a means of justifying the victimless violence.)
1992 was filled with plenty of high-concept videos: the oddly Egyptian-themed “Remember the Time,” the sensual “In the Closet,” the fun “Jam” with a featured guest spot from Michael Jordan and the treacly “Heal the World” (another Jackson no-show). Only “Remember the Time” and “Heal the World” made the Video Greatest Hits HIStory set, while the others were kept on the Dangerous: The Short Films compilation.
That set nabbed a few clips not found anywhere else: videos for “Give In to Me,” “Who is It,” “Will You Be There” and “Gone Too Soon,” along with Jackson’s performance of “Heal the World” at Super Bowl XXVII, several award acceptance speeches and an edit of the fantastic Pepsi commercial in which the Jackson of 1993 duets on “I’ll Be There” with his younger self, one of the most touching clips of the era. Another surprisingly common video, found on both HIStory video sets and the Dangerous compilation, is “Brace Yourself,” the Carmina Burana-fueled intro to Jackson’s Dangerous tour. (One notable omission from the era is the still-unreleased “tribute version” of “Who is It,” culled from clips of Jackson’s old performances.)
Part 4: 1995-2009
Though Jackson was unfortunately in the phase of his career where his music took a backseat to his legal woes, he did have time to release a bunch of interesting videos for his new record, the compilation/new album double LP HIStory: Past Present and Future – Book 1 (1995). Oddly, for an album that people do not hold in the same regard as even Dangerous, this portion of Jackson’s videography is the most complete, thanks to the HIStory on Film – Volume II set. It includes the videos to each single – “Scream,” his duet with kid sister Janet Jackson; the whimsical “Childhood;” the moving “You Are Not Alone;” the preachy “Earth Song” and the haunting “Stranger in Moscow” – and one of the two videos commissioned for “They Don’t Care About Us.” (The first, released one has Jackson leading singers and dancers in Brazil while the second, as-yet commercially unreleased version has Jackson in prison intercut with violent images in history. Although the second video was the controversial one, it was indeed shot after the Spike Lee-directed Brazilian clip.)
HIStory on Film – Volume II, depending on the format you own it on, has one or two additional bonuses from the period. All versions have Jackson’s lengthy performance from the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, but only VHS and laserdisc versions have a bonus video commissioned to promote HIStory in clubs, built around the club single “MJ Megaremix,” a medley of Jackson’s greatest hits. And all versions have the hubristic video teaser for the album, in which thousands of children and an undetermined army unveil an enormous statue of The King of Pop.
Two videos were commissioned for the 1997 remix album Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix. The title track had a comparatively lo-fi video featuring Jackson dancing with his mystery girl in a club (two versions of this video exist – one set to the LP version of the song and found on Number Ones, and a re-edit built around the Refugee Camp Mix of the song, which is found on the HIStory on Film – Volume II DVD.) Then of course there was the half-hour short Ghosts, directed by special effects legend Stan Winston and featuring some ghoulish dancing and visual effects (and one creepy image of Jackson in a fat suit and false nose, playing the villain of the film). An MTV-ready edit of the video was made but has not been released anywhere outside Jackson’s YouTube page; the long version is available as a standalone DVD.
For the final album in Jackson’s life, 2001’s Invincible, two videos were shot. The grandiose “You Rock My World” clip, featuring cameos from Chris Tucker, Michael Madsen and Marlon Brando (whose career at this point was as unusual as Jackson’s) was a 13-minute mini-movie, yet another with Jackson as a ladykiller in a nightclub. Then there was a lightweight video for final single “Cry,” perhaps one of the most uncomfortably boring of Jackson’s career; the artist is a no-show while random people in a field just stand around and cry. (While “Cry” has unsurprisingly remained in the vaults, the full version of “You Rock My World” has, too. The Number Ones DVD has a slightly edited version, about three minutes shorter than the original. There was, of course, an even shorter version commissioned for MTV.)
A video for “One More Chance,” the new single off the Number Ones compilation, was shelved when Jackson was arrested and charged with counts of misconduct against minors. Until then, there would be no video until a posthumous clip directed by Spike Lee for “This is It.”
Whatever a video compilation would look like, it would be wise to draw from as much of the above material as possible. What else would you, the buyer and fan, want to see? Sound off below.